REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Best of the Beast (1996 2 CD edition)

Part 22 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

IRON MAIDEN – Best of the Beast (1996)

I’m not sure what prompted Iron Maiden to put out their first greatest hits disc in 1996, but at least they did it in style.  Originally available as a limited edition 2 CD book set, it was pretty extravagant packaging for the time.   My only beef is by the nature of such packaging, the paper sleeves will always scratch your discs, 100% of the time.

This album was also available in a standard edition single disc, with the songs in a different running order.  I don’t have that one so I’m not going to talk aboot it.

The 2 disc version, perhaps to emphasize that Blaze Bayley is the current Maiden vocalist, starts at the present and then rewinds all the way back to the beginning, closing with The Soundhouse Tapes!  An interesting approach indeed.  As a listening experience I’m not sure that it works that well.

Since we’re starting at the present, the album kicks off with a new song.  “Virus” is 6:30 of same-old same-old X Factor Maiden, but not as good as anything on that album.   It drags and drags for three minutes before finally kicking into gear, but it is otherwise repetitive and boring until then.  Lyrically, it is another attack on the sicknesses in society, much like “Be Quick Or Be Dead” and “Justice of the Peace” were.

Then back in time one year, to “Sign of the Cross”, the dramatic 11 minute epic from The X Factor, as well as “Man on the Edge”.  (I would have preferred “Lord of the Flies” to “Man on the Edge”, but perhaps “Man” was the bigger single of the two.)

To bridge into the Fear of the Dark album, a new live version of “Afraid To Shoot Strangers” is featured, with Blaze Bayley singing.  It’s a good live version, but it’s immediately obvious that Blaze is no Bruce.

Bruce takes over on the next track, “Be Quick Or Be Dead”, and we’re back in the saddle.  Singles (including the popular live version of “Fear of the Dark”) and album tracks are counted down from 1993 to 1986’s Somewhere In Time album, ending disc 1 with “Wasted Years”, a great closer.  My beef here:  I would have preferred the single “Stranger In A Strange Land” to the album track “Heaven Can Wait” (but I know the Heavy Metal OverloRd doesn’t agree with me!)

Disc 2 is the glory years, if you will, everything from Live After Death to the beginning.  It begins with the epic “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, a ballsy move for a greatest hits album, and the live version at that.  Chasing it is the live single version of “Running Free”.  Then we count them down, all the singles from Powerslave to “Run To The Hills”, plus “Where Eagles Dare” and  “Hallowed Be Thy Name” thrown in for good measure.

Then it’s the Di’Anno years, which are given an unfortunately brief expose.  “Wrathchild”, from Killers  is one of the best songs from that era, but the only included track from that album.  Maiden’s first epic, “Phantom of the Opera” and the single “Sanctuary” represent the debut Iron Maiden.  Finally, an unreleased track from The Soundhouse Tapes sessions (“Strange World”), and the rare Soundhouse version of “Iron Maiden” close the set.  To read my review of The Soundhouse Tapes and these tracks, click here.

There was also a 4 LP vinyl edition available, with 7 extra tracks:  “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son”,  “The Prisoner”, “Killers”, “Remember Tomorrow”, an exclusive live version of “Revelations” from the Piece of Mind tour, plus the final two songs from The Soundhouse Tapes, “Prowler” and “Invasion”. You can read a story about the 4 LP edition by clicking here.

And there you have it, Maiden’s first greatest hits set, with lots of the hits and plenty of rarities thrown in for the collectors.  I confess that I don’t listen to it often, and this time for this review was the first time in roughly two years.

The cover art was once again by Derek Riggs, doing a sort of mash-up of his (and nobody else’s) Eddie’s.  It’s a suitably glorious piece of art for such a monument of metal.  The inside of the book is loaded with concert dates, lyrics, liner notes, and chart positions, as well as more Eddie’s and photos!

I still want to talk about the single, “Virus”, but I think that it should get an article of its own.  Check back soon for that!

Curiosity: the cover features an ad for the never-to-be Iron Maiden video game, Melt!  Maiden did eventually release a video game, but we’re not going there yet….

For the 2 CD edition of Best of the Beast:

4/5 stars


REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Powerslave (1983, 1996 bonus CD)

Part 7 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

IRON MAIDEN – Powerslave (1983, 1996 bonus CD)

Tell me why I had to be a Powerslave?

I don’t wanna die, I’m a god, why can’t I live on?

How much did I love Powerslave, especially after taking Ancient Egypt in highschool?  Finally I knew what the Eye of Horus was, and what the hell the lyrics were about!  When I was growing up and first getting into Maiden, Powerslave was the current album.  The neighbor kid had it.  We literally stared at that album cover for hours.

Derek Riggs outdid himself on the artwork this time, really outdid himself.  The Egyptian theme of the artwork allowed him to weave all sorts of hidden messages into the hyroglyphs.  I don’t have the LP, but I could swear that somewhere on the cover (front or back) it says “Indiana Jones was here”!

I taped the album from that neighbor, unfortunately on one of the worst sounding Scotch blanks I ever heard.  It was unlistenable.  Then my dad bought me the tape from the local music store, but even it sounded terrible — warbly.  I found that many Capitol Records releases in the mid-80’s in Canada had awful cassette quality.  From my Maidens to my Helix, they were mostly unplayable.

It was a long while before I got a listenable version of the album.  Then it hit me like a ton of bricks — holy crap, this is GOOD!

“Aces High” and “2 Minutes To Midnight” are the two singles, and of course they lead the album.  I only wish “Churchill’s Speech” was included as it was in the “Aces High” video!  As kids we always preferred “Aces High”.  It combines the manic speed of early Maiden, with the anthemic Dickinson choruses.  Just great.

“Aces High” was yet another song that my dad didn’t mind me listening to out loud, since it was about one his favourite historical subjects:  the Battle of Britain.

“2 Minutes”, a reference to the Doomsday Clock,was a Dickinson/Smith composition.  At 6 minutes long, it wasn’t an obvious single.   Vocally, it’s a lot less catchy than “Aces High”.  Bruce doesn’t so much sing a melody as he does spit the words out like a furious machine gun!  Musically, the riff seems lifted directly from later Budgie, and early Diamond Head.  See if you can spot it.

Up next is an instrumental, the first since Killers!   “Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra)” is really the only weak song on the album.  As an instrumental, it’s not as exciting as something like “The Ides of March”.  The riff is rather simple and it sounds like an unfinished song, like Bruce didn’t show up that day or something.  The guitar playing (well, all the playing) is of course stellar, there’s always that!

Then comes “Flash of the Blade”, a fucking awesome track, and one of my favourites.  I remember trying to learn that riff as a kid, as it’s catchy but uncomplicated.  This one’s penned by Dickinson alone, and is about…of course…fencing.  Like Steve Harris was on the exact same wavelength, his song, “The Duelists” is up next.  Yet another song incorporating fencing, this one was my personal pick for a third single.  I remember even drawing my own cover art, with Eddie dueling the Devil!   The middle section is an intricate dance of delicate guitars, you can almost picture the men parrying and feinting.

And that ended side one.  Side two opened with “Back In The Village”.  This would be the only other song beside “Losfer Words” that doesn’t make my road tapes.  Another Smith/Dickinson song, it’s got a cool signiture Adrian riff, but up against the rest of these songs, it just doesn’t stand out to me.

But “Powerslave” does!  This is another solo Bruce writing credit, and a powerful song it is!  Bruce metalizes Ancient Egypt with that cool riff, and his lyrics are a labyrinth of Egyptian mythology.  Very cool.  The best part of the song however is the middle section.  The song slows down at roughly 3 minutes, and there’s some pretty amazing soloing (sounds like Dave).  Then things pick up at 3:52, and Adrian plays my favourite Iron Maiden guitar solo of all time!  (Of all time, Kanye!)  Damn I love that solo!  I always have, even when all I had were those crappy cassettes.  And as if that wasn’t enough, then there’s a harmony part with Dave and Adrian together, and then Dave’s off on another amazing solo of his own!

(For the record:  if there was a second favourite Maiden guitar solo for me, it’s “The Wicker Man”, also performed by Adrian.)

Before you know it, we are at the end.  But not quite, for the final song on Powerslave is 14 minutes long!  “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner”, based of course on Coleridge, is the latest and perhaps the greatest so far of Steve’s epics.  I don’t know if I want to even think about ranking his epics anymore, but “Rime” is certainly a favourite.  That opening riff alone would have made a song on its own.  But this is a complex song, and it twists and turns and goes through all sorts of different adventures before we’re done.  As kids I remember were all blown away that this whole song was written by just one guy!

Talking about “Rime” in words is tough.  Lyrically I loved it.  Suddenly I understood Coleridge, and it wasn’t at all painful!  But musically this is just about perfect.  Bruce’s delivery is flawless, and the guitars are woven into epic and amazing solos once again.  Just about every section of this song is memorable.  It lags a bit in the atmospheric middle section, but this is soon replaced by a triumphant vocal with bright bass guitar melodies.

This 2 CD deluxe edition includes a bonus disc with all the B-side goodies.  Didn’t you always love that cover for “Aces High”?  Eddie in the Spitfire, flying on, even with a bullet in his head?  The B-sides include a live version of “Number of the Beast” that used to annoy us as kids, since Bruce only sings “six!” and gets the audience to finish with “six six!”.  With hindsight, who cares, it’s a great live version.  It’s just funny how I have that memory so very distinctly!

“King of Twilight”, a cover from a band called Nektar, isn’t a standout though.  I like that “Ahh, ahhh, ahh” section and I love the pounding drums.  Otherwise it’s not a road tape classic.

“2 Minutes To Midnight” had two excellent B-sides:  “Rainbow’s Gold” and “Mission From ‘Arry”.  The riff that kicks off “Rainbow’s Gold” is just really catchy, as is that vocal melody.  This is a cover from somebody called Beckett.  Gotta give Maiden credit for trying obscure covers!  Love this song.

And…”Mission From ‘Arry”.  Not a song at all, here’s the story.  One night, Nicko was asked to extend his drum solo while Harris (‘Arry) got his bass rig up and running.  ‘Arry sent his roadie to tell Nicko, who was distracted by the roadie and fucked up his drum solo.  Furious he launched into said roadie and gave him a good solid dressing down.  After the show, Steve in turn told Nicko that he was out of line and to apologize.  In walked Bruce Dickinson with a hidden tape recorder and a mischievous grin!  The rest is history, as released on this B-side!

Now, I’m from Canada and I don’t know my British slang that well.  Do you guys often use phrases like “Fuck my old boots!”?

I don’t think Powerslave was the album that Piece Of Mind was, but maybe I like it a fraction better than Beast.  I dunno.  It’s so hard to rank, we’re really splitting hairs here.  Powerslave was a little colder sounding, a little brittle compared to the past.  Steve’s bass is a little rinky, not warm and deep enough.  But that’s the sound of the LP, the songs still rise above.

4.75/5 stars

Part 116: IRON MAIDEN’s Gonna Get Ya…No Matter How Far! (The first 10, in 2 CD picture discs!)

Alright folks, strap yourselves in and get ready for the ride.  After the positive feedback from my series of Kiss reviews, I’ve decided to go with popular demand and do all the Iron Maiden next.  We’re going to talk about every studio album, every live album, every compilation, and every rarity that I have access to.  But why not start off with a Record Store Tale?  Here’s how I acquired rare editions of the crucial first 10 albums….


IRON MAIDEN’s Gonna Get Ya…No Matter How Far!

My love of Maiden is well documented.  The very first blog here at LeBrain’s Record Store Tales, Part 1, was called “Run To The Hills”. It describes the first time I ever heard the band.  I don’t need to explain to you why I love Iron Maiden.  If you’re reading this, chances are that you already understand.  Iron Maiden are more than just a band.  They are a passion.  With a band like Maiden, the fans strive to own everything.

The setting:  Early 1996, when we still carried new CD stock.  One of our suppliers dropped off a brand new catalogue.  Inside, was a new listing.  An exciting new listing!

Iron Maiden were reissuing their first 10 albums in 2 CD editions, with a bonus disc of B-sides!  Picture discs!  Iron Maiden, Killers, The Number of the Beast, Peace of Mind, Powerslave, Live After Death, Somewhere In Time, Seventh Son, No Prayer, and Fear of the Dark!  Knowing that Maiden usually released a minimum of two singles per album, with a minimum of 2 B-sides per single, this was a MUST for me.  I didn’t have all the Maiden singles.  Not even close.  Some of these songs, like “Burning Ambition” and “Invasion”, I’d never even heard before!  Now I was going to have the chance to own them on CD.

The discs were expensive, even with my staff discount.  But there was absolutely no way I was missing these.  As an added incentive, I didn’t even own all the Maiden albums on CD yet.  Most of these albums I still only owned on cassette or vinyl!  So really, it was a win-win situation.  Not only was I getting the B-sides, but I was also getting all the Maiden albums on CD with a minimum of overlap with my existing collection.  Plus, these were picture discs with Derek Riggs’ singles artwork.  Picture discs were something of a novelty at the time.  Today, most CDs are picture discs and nobody cares if they are.

My boss warned me:  “If you order these, you better make sure you buy them all.”  There was absolutely no question of that, I’m surprised he even mentioned it, knowing what a collector I am.  It’s too bad we didn’t order more, for stock.  The rarity of these discs has shown that we could have sold them quickly, or better yet, hung onto them for a couple years and jacked up the price once they were out of print.

The supplier we were ordering from, the name of which escapes me, was a small-time supplier, and usually couldn’t get everything we ordered.  They had about a 50% success rate.  Yet he listed all these European imports that our main supplier usually shied away from.  The Maiden reissues were all from Europe.  I crossed my fingers.  I wanted all 10.  Not “some”, but all!  “Some” would not do it!

A week later, the first five Maidens arrived!  The following week, another chunk of Maiden shipped!  They only failed to get me one disc: Fear of the Dark.  Resolving to get it somehow, it turns out I didn’t need to worry about it.  Two weeks later, even that one arrived.  Total expenditure:  About $300 with taxes!  I had all 10.  My Maiden B-side collection:  almost complete!  [Note:  When I go through the Maiden reviews, we’ll cover all the B-sides, including songs that are not on these deluxe editions.]

I settled in for some long, long nights of listening.  I made a compilation tape of all the B-sides that I had (including up to the current album, The X Factor), and it ended up being 3 tapes, 100 minute cassettes, which I still have.  To knock so many songs off my wishlist in one fell swoop like this was the kind of thing I lived for.  This was the perk of working in a record store.  What a score!  Today, I don’t know anybody else who has the full set of 10.

Be sure to check back in the coming days and weeks for all the reviews, starting with The Soundhouse Tapes, to the present day…